Are Thieves Driving Up Biofuel Prices?

Restaurants typically store their used cooking oil in back-alley Dumpsters, making it easily accessible for pilferers. Photo: Flickr/Kamal H.

For years, restaurants had to pay to have their used cooking oil hauled away. But with the demand for biofuel rising, contractors are offering eateries big bucks for their oil, which can be cheaply converted into alternative fuel.

The problem? Thieves are siphoning valuable oil off before paying contractors can get to it, an issue explored in an investigative piece published on Saturday by The New York Times.

Fryer oil now commands around 40 cents per pound – about four times what it sold for 10 years ago, according to the article. The now-valuable commodity is typically stored in back-alley Dumpsters – making it even more attractive to thieves, especially in hard times.

California and Virginia have passed legislation to stave off grease theft. But companies told The New York Times it has been tough to get criminal courts to take the crime seriously, as it can be difficult to determine the value of the stolen oil, how much was stolen and from where.

Big-time rendering companies like Darling International Inc. have started hiring lawyers to press civil charges against thieves. But for smaller companies, trying to recoup losses in an somewhat-unreceptive civil court system isn’t worth the investment, according to the article.

Sacramento Rendering, a small Northern California company that serves about 2,500 restaurants, estimates that it loses about 50,000 pounds of raw grease each week – amounting to $750,000 a year in lost revenue, Michael Koewler, company president, told The New York Times.

“I don’t want to have to hire an attorney to go after all this stuff,” Koewler told the paper. “I’d rather have the state, which is obligated to enforce the law, to do their part.”

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Mary Mazzoni
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